Smart Kids: Three Ways Parents Help Their Child Talk and Learn

Your child learns fast before he even begins to talk. Billions of brain cells already exist, and during his early months, he starts building pathways between them. That’s how he learns. Follow three rules to encourage his brain to develop during his early months and give him a head start in language skills by offering him:


• a safe environment;


• opportunities for enriching experiences;


• close attachment to you.


Safety
Reduce your baby’s stress by helping him feel secure. Respond when he cries, make sure he feels safe and introduce a routine, so he knows what is going to happen. If he feels stressed and anxious for a long time, his brain produces high levels of cortisol. This chemical is fine in small doses, but too much of it for too long appears to slow brain development. A calm baby can learn more easily.


Keep sound levels low and avoid sudden bursts of noise, movement and action. Use quiet, soothing music and gentle voices to relax him and help him sleep, building a secure routine that makes him feel safe. Let him sleep when he needs to.


Opportunity
Offer him new experiences, one at a time. Take him with you on trips to buy groceries, talk to him as you change him, dress him and play with him. Use the times when he’s awake and alert to introduce him to new experiences, so he can build on his knowledge over time.


Repetition matters to your baby, as his brain establishes new pathways, so include familiar things in his day as well as new ones. Try a daily walk in the park, or round the corner, so he can experience a mix of regular and new events. Talk about the things you see and hear together. Name his clothes, his food, parts of his body, animals and cars in the street.


Play with him, kneeling down and getting close to him, playing baby games and singing together. Every experience is new and interesting, and time spent with you is the best of all.


Attachment
Enjoy the unique relationship you have with your baby. Learn to recognise his needs: see if you can recognise how his hungry cry differs from his tired cry, for example. You won’t get it right all the time, but fulfilling his needs just one third of the time is enough to build a bond. A baby learns most in his first year from one adult, who he spends time with and grows attached to.


Make sure your baby learns to trust you, by being reliable. You may not be with him all the time, the when you are, give him your full attention. Ensure that anyone who cares for him when you are elsewhere understands the importance of responding to his needs.

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Help Your Child Talk: Best Toys for Baby Language Learning

Babies enjoy their interaction with you far more than the most expensive toys. Your face, voice, security and care matter to your child. As she grows, select the right toys to save money while you help her develop language skills.

Soft rattles: in her first year, she loves toys that encourage her to notice sights and sounds, smells and tastes and the way things feel. She learns to spend a few seconds following a moving toy, or turning to the sound of a rattle or a soft, squeaky toy. She builds brain pathways, learning rapidly about her new world as she repeats the same actions often.

Rolling balls: as she starts to move, crawling or shuffling across the floor, her universe opens up. A soft ball with a bell inside encourages her to follow as it rolls away, and she keeps listening as she searches, using her ears to find where it went. Good listening skills lead to easier language development.

Plastic cutlery: safe spoons, plates and cups make good plaything as she starts to eat solid food, sitting in her high chair, dropping them on the floor and looking around to find them. She learns that objects still exist, even when they drop out of sight. This lays foundations for understanding symbols, and helps her prepare to recognise pictures and words.

Teddy: dolls, teddies and soft toys with faces and bodies help her play out pretend sequences. Beginning by carrying teddy around with her, she learns to pretend clean his teeth or wash his feet. She builds up whole scenes, treating teddy as a real person and hearing you say the words for his body parts.

Dolls house: a robust dolls house is a wonderful investment that will last your child for years. If funds won’t allow a commercial house, why not get creative with a cardboard box? Playing with miniature toys takes her symbolic understanding further. She’s a long way from reading, but these games are the early steps in learning.

Musical instruments: rhythm, listening to different sounds and making music herself introduce her to the rhythms of speech and sharpen those listening skills. She needs to hear the difference between a range of speech sounds as she begins to recognise words, and tuning her ears with music helps. She doesn’t need a violin: a saucepan and wooden spoon will do.

Books: tiny babies love books with faces and mirrors. As she grows, she loves books with flaps she can pull up. She likes the repetition of a bedtime story or nursery rhymes, familiarising herself with the words and speech rhythms as you repeat them a hundred times.

Avoid: too many noisy toys that ‘talk’ or ‘sing’. Your child has her own imagination. Let her use it. Sing and talk with her yourself. She likes you better than any plastic toy.